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“I just took on my player. I heard the crack. I knew I was in bother”

Sat 01st Jun

Daragh Ó Conchúir


By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Even as she put herself through the torturously lonely grind of recovery, Miriam Walsh’s mindset oscillated between determination and doubt.
The endeavour away from the limelight she credited with the improvements in her game that earned her a third All-Star in 2022 and saw her crowned Player of the Year, having garnered her third Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie medal that season, remained a constant, however.
Even as she wondered what she was doing it for, Walsh embraced the Muhammad Ali line about the fight being won or lost far away from witnesses.
There were many micro contributors to the eventual decision to return. Her husband, Noel McGree kept telling her she would miss the dressing room.
Teammates, Kellyann and Aoife Doyle had been through the cruciate mill and promised her that while it wouldn’t be easy, the year would fly and it did, because the days were so busy.
Her first cousin, Grace has been even more of a constant with the Stripeywomen as Miriam and was on the squad when her younger relative got the call-up from Ann Downey. The power that has terrorised defenders for more than a decade had fooled the camogie legend, however. The neophyte was only 15 and would have to wait another year to be allowed play.
Grace was coming back from injury herself. She provided upbeat messages regularly, particularly after the hamstrings twanged to threaten a derailment of the comeback.
“I was going, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and Grace was saying, ‘You can,’” reflects Walsh. “She’s a brilliant leader.”
She still wasn’t sure though until running into Kellyann Doyle in the gym. Denise Gaule had gone travelling, Claire Phelan retired. There was new management.
“I didn’t know whether I was gonna go back. One day, off the cuff, I met Kellyann Doyle in the gym. She was like, ‘Are you coming back Miriam?’ And I was like, ‘To be honest, I’m not really sure. All my friends are gone.’ And she was saying, ‘Sure you have all of us!’ That was nice to hear and I actually went to training the following week.”
The support didn’t stop there, and wasn’t confined to county borders.
“Matthew Twomey, the Cork camogie manager texted me. Niamh Kilkenny of Galway. That will tell you the togetherness in camogie. It was really nice and a great boost. It meant a lot.”
Manager, Brian Dowling and his mentors were with her every step of the way and she attended every training and match last year, as much a part of the group as was possible, though it’s never the same when you’re not going into battle with your comrades.
“Brian and the lads were brilliant. Sure Tommy Shefflin was in the room with me just before I went for the operation, with me and my husband. So that will tell you the support I got.”
It was actually the day of her 28th birthday when Walsh was struck down during training at Carlow IT, with the Very League having just gotten under way.
“I just took on my player. I heard the crack. I knew I was in bother. The girls around me heard the crack as well.
“I was down on the ground screaming at the top of my lungs. Everyone was around me. I was only in pain for about 30 seconds. Then I got up and I apologised to the team and Brian and the lads – ‘Sorry for being so dramatic!’
“I think the lads knew deep down though. They know I don’t go down easy.”
She had torn her ACL and her meniscus. The aforementioned operation, at the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford, was the same procedure carried out on another Kilkenny attacker, Adrian Mullen, involving a graft of the patellar tendon.
She began doing straight-line and non-contact work in January, through February, stepping it up through March. Her first full contact session with the squad was in April.
Peter Cleere was manager now and in every conversation, he released the pressure valve.
“It took till the nine-month mark (after the operation) but I pulled my hamstring twice and that set me back.
“Chap Cleere is brilliant. He really got the confidence back in me as a player. After every setback, he’d be onto you. ‘You still have loads of time.’ Little things like that kept me going.
“When you put in the rehab I did, I didn’t want to throw it all away and I didn’t want my career to end on a cruciate. I wanted to come back and show that I worked hard.”
The thing was to come back at the level she was at prior to the injury. Player of the Year level. That’s the challenge
“I was only saying to the girls, it was only last week I felt I was really motoring. It took the Leinster matches, four or five weeks of matches. Looking at my GPS stats, I’m only motoring now with my speedwork.
“The hurling was there naturally from all the years but the speed and fitness had so much to work on. Your body goes through so many changes. My first night back, I got a bang on my knee and I was bawling crying! You have to get used to it all again.”
Walsh was unleashed for the final 20 minutes as their Leinster Championship winning campaign began against Westmeath.
“I didn’t really notice but my dad was saying I got a big clap when I came on. But I wouldn’t be noticing that at all.
“I wasn’t nervous. I was nervous when I started back training. It did take a lot mentally. The physio said to me, ‘You’re going to have to get over the mental side of things,’ so I just had to push through it. Trust the body and trust the work.
“I’m buzzing now. I was just sick of training on my own. It was just so isolating. You were going to work, going to the gym on your own and going to bed and you weren’t seeing anyone really. So it’s brilliant to be back with the group and part of a team dynamic.”
Despite the many changes in the camp, one hesitates to talk of transition when discussing Kilkenny camogie. The All-Ireland triumphs in 2020 and 2022 during Dowling’s watch came after some considerable upheaval in terms of personnel. Walsh hasn’t come back to be part of a humdrum summer.
They looked good in trouncing Limerick by 14 points in Rathkeale seven days ago and travel north to Corrigan Park to play Antrim this afternoon (2pm throw-in, live on OfficialCamogie YouTube channel).
“I have brilliant faith in the team this year. It probably did take a little while to get used to management but the last three weeks, we’ve really gelled together. I do believe we can go the whole way.”

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